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Royal Ups and Downs: Second Place Edition

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The series that chronicles the highs and lows of the Royals roster returns, this time with even more pitchers!

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Well, 29-20 is far from a disappointment for this team. In fact, there are plenty who would argue that, in light of some of the luck the Royals have coasted off this season in the BABIP department, nine games over might still be fortunate. The recent losing ways aside, it's hard to complain about where KC is. At the end of March, if you had told me that you were a person from the future and that on June 3rd, the Royals would be in second place by half a game and nine games over, I'd say something reasonable like "oh, well good." You know, after I got over the fact that a person from the future only wanted to tell me about the fortunes of a baseball team.

If you had told me that the Minnesota Twins would be the team that was edging the Royals for first, that would have been the point where I would have probably contacted the Time Travel Police and told them that there was a rogue idiot floating around the space-time continuum. And no, I don't really have anything smart to say about Minnesota, really. Good for them, I guess. Baseball is such a weird sport sometimes. It's now over two months in and I'm really not sure if we've learned which teams in the AL Central are actually good. Are the Twins legit, or did they jack our BABIP Fairy? Is Detroit going to keep fading? How are the White Sox that bad so far? What the hell is this Cleveland Baseball Club? Yes, the standings are there as a handy "how you've done so far" guide, but only the AL East is tighter-packed from top to bottom.

Anyways, on to your Pitching Staff Ups and Downs. Maybe we can answer part of this question (in regard to the Royals anyway):

SP - Edinson Volquez -

Ups

You're probably going to get tired of hearing the ways that Volquez could/should regress, so let's focus on the positive here for a sec. Volquez has kept his ERA under 3 for two months, so it'd be hard for his season to go totally pear-shaped at this point. His Strikeouts are up from last year, while his walks are down a tick. His strand rate is actually currently below his current figure. He's thrown 61 innings in 10 starts, so, while he hasn't been a workhorse, he hasn't killed the 'pen either. And, oh yeah, the green arrow reflects that he has been trending up--his last three starts are two wins and a 9-strikeout game, all against winning teams. And hey, there's this too! So maybe some of the following isn't really a ticking time-bomb.

So now the part you don't want to hear: Volquez has been very fortunate where the ball has gone after contact. Both on BABIP, where he's sitting at .241 (career .295), and HR/FB% of 4.9 (career 11.1%). The Royals defense is quite good. The K is a good place to suppress HRs. I'm not sure either number is fully explained, and there's nothing in Volquez's batted ball data that suggest A) he's allowing less hard-hit balls--in fact, it's the opposite--or B) he's allowing less flyballs--again, in fact, it's the opposite--so while Volquez has been good so far for the reasons stated above, note that he might have a rough stretch coming. Or he might have sold his soul to Cthulu. Come to think of it, I guess that would also suggest having a "rough stretch" coming.

I could've probably skipped all this and just told you that his ERA is 2.19 at home and 4.13 on the road, with him yet to surrender a HR at the K, and you'd get the picture. But we like the full picture, right?

SP - Yordano Ventura -

Ups

Due to programming conflicts and my being bad at remembering to blog and work at the same time, the last time I did Pitching Staff Ups and Downs was on May 13th. Since then, Ventura has K'd 25 batters and walked five, so he finally heated up in that regard. And while the starts have been of varying quality, Ventura's gone seven innings in each of his last four starts.

While there are still growing pains--you'd like his HR/9 to be below 1, for starters--Ventura seems to be hitting his stride a bit after a slow first month. There's nothing really out of line about this improvement, either, as FIP and xFIP both think he's been a bit unlucky, if anything. Consider this your bright spot in a rotation that continues to baffle a bit. When I talk to friends who don't know the Royals well, they always mention the good defense and pitching, and I'm not sure if they realize how much of that pitching success is from the 7th inning on.

SP - Jason Vargas -

nope

Well, we all knew that, most likely, the issue with Vargas wasn't going to be what happened in the first year of his deal. And his contributions did help the Royals reach the World Series, so that was pretty neat. So maybe it's best that we just think about that, while also hoping Vargas rounds into form after coming back from the DL. His first start was a weird mix, where he K'd 6 Yankees but also only made it through four innings. It's been an ugly first couple months for Vargas, but there's still time to get things on track. The only reason he doesn't get a down arrow is, because, well, he barely pitched since last time.

SP - Danny Duffy -

kaboom

Hitting the DL can't save Duffy from the down arrow, but hopefully it prevents him from having more trouble than he was already having. Before hitting the disabled list with biceps tendinitis, Duffy's three starts in May had yielded 10 BBs, 7 Ks, 15 hits, and 14 earned runs in 9.2 innings. Here's hoping for a full recovery.

SP - Jeremy Guthrie -

kaboom

I started to think that I was being too harsh in hitting Jeremy with another red, but nope! His ERA was at 5.70 last time, it's actually gone up. In no small part thanks to the worst start of Guthrie's career, which took place against the Yankees and I probably don't need to remind you which game that was.

The excuses for Guthrie are kind of amazing at this point. People aren't wrong that he tends to give you a decent start the time out after he gets pasted. In fact, he did that three times in a row in May, if I'm being nice about the definition of a "good start" and don't correctly put about half of it at the feet of the Royals defense. That argument kind of obscures the fact that a pitcher who gets killed every other start--Guthrie has given up 4 or more ER in half his starts this year, even if he hasn't been literally alternating good and bad efforts--and gives you a decent one in the other half of his appearances is called a bad pitcher.

Look, I've actually liked Guts back from when he was an Oriole, but this is getting silly. Guthrie is currently K'ing 3.33 batters every nine innings. Yordano Ventura does that in about every 4.5 innings. There comes a level of not being able to miss a bat where a ML starter really can't succeed. Guthrie has never been a strikeout guy, but he closed the last two seasons at 4.72 K/9 and 5.51. That number either comes up or he's not even worth the fifth spot anymore. And frankly, it's not worth it for a team that's in contention to waste more starts finding out if that number will come up.

SP - Chris Young -

Ups

The Royals Pitcher of the Month for May gets a Green Arrow! How shocking!

Young finally actually had a bad-ish appearance, surrendering four runs in six innings to the Yankees. The only other time this year he was charged with more than one run was April 16th, in a three-inning relief appearance against Minnesota. Thus far, he's been a good band-aid in the rotation, and one would think he'll return a spot even when everyone's healthy.

SP/RP - Joe Blanton -

nope

Wait wait, is this an elaborate joke, or is Joe Blanton actually on the 2015 Kansas City Royals roster (to be fair, I could have made this joke about Young earlier in the year)?

RP - Franklin Morales -

Ups

One of the weird things to me about the Royals tolerating Guthrie's badness and Duffy's badness (brought on by pitching hurt) is that it's not like the KC FO didn't hedge their bets in terms of bringing in guys with starting experiences. Between Young, Morales, and Blanton, that's plenty of guys with MLB starting experiences who are available for a spot start if you have a couple guys with ERAs north of 5.

Meanwhile, in the bullpen, Morales continues to be the Royals moderately effective, somewhat-hittable reliever. He's not really being used as a LOOGY, having only failed to record three outs in three of his 19 appearances and averaging over an IP per appearance. That's good, because he continues to have a reverse split out of the 'pen. He hasn't really struck out a lot of hitters, but he's also done well in limiting walks and homers. This is also probably the most I've ever written about Franklin Morales, so there's that.

RP - Ryan Madson -

nope

The hilarious thing about the Royals bullpen is that having allowed two runs in your last six innings, as Madson has done, and having a 1.96 ERA, pinpoints you as having performed worse than about four other righties.

RP - Jason Frasor -

nope

Frasor has been nowhere near as effective as his being charged with one earned run this season would have you believe, as he's walked almost as many hitters as he's struck out. Things haven't caught up to him yet, and, as he's gone five days between appearances twice, Frank seems likely to keep it that way for awhile.

RP - Kelvin Herrera -

Ups

Herrera continues to pitch in a way that would have him closing for a lot of teams, as his K-Rate remains well above a batting per inning. While there's no denying that he's been quite effective, the walk rate is creeping up into dangerous territory, at 4.74 per 9. Something to keep an eye on.

RP - Wade Davis -

Ups

I would like to protest Wade Davis's run allowed last night as still being listed as "earned," but if that stands...he now has an ERA. It is .39.

Weirdly enough, it took a recent surge to get Davis's K/9 back up towards its normal ridiculous heights. Still, there's no way he can't get the green arrow again. He still hasn't given up a homer since 2013.

RP - Greg Holland -

kaboom

Does anyone remember the last time I gave Greg Holland a down arrow? That was probably in 2013, too. But it's kinda unavoidable after surrendering two runs to the Yankees. He's only been back from injury recently, so he's no doubt got some kinks to work out.

~

Fresh off yet another example of how MLB's replay system could use an overhaul, the Royals are back at it tonight against the Cleveland Baseball Club at the K. Kluber vs. Vargas. We got this.